Saturday, April 02, 2011

Vonnie Hughes: Exotic Locales For Books

When agents and romance publishers says they accept “exotic locales” for book settings, they tend to mean “within reason.” I have a book coming out soon from The Wild Rose Press, and I commend that publisher for not tampering with the setting. But I went through about ten agents and seven publishers first who all said something akin to “I wouldn’t know how to market it because of the setting.”

So you’re thinking, “This stupid woman set her novel in Orehevo-Zuevo or Bujumbura, didn’t she?” No, actually, I didn’t. I set it in New Zealand—the place that sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire and which, like Japan, recently suffered an almighty earthquake.

Now, my family was born in New Zealand, although we now live in Australia. And the book that gave those hesitant agents and publishers pause is titled LETHAL REFUGE. What worried them was that the New Zealand policing system is based on the English one—unarmed constables in vehicles or on foot forming the basis of the structure. Yes, many police are armed e.g. detectives on certain occasions, units assisting the Drug Squad on drug busts and of course the Armed Offenders’ Squad (equivalent to the American SWAT teams) are all armed.

But New Zealand has policing by consent. Their policing base is in the community and they are taught verbal skills just the same as the British Police and the Norwegian Police. They rely on public support. Now I don’t want to end up in a debate on this, because I’m sure scores of New Zealanders are yelling, “Arm the police! The crims have all got weapons!” For every opinion there is a counter-opinion. I’m just telling it like it is. And remember that New Zealand only has 4 million people and their arrest rate, therefore, is very high. Let’s face it; in a small community like that everyone knows somebody who knows somebody…

So the agents and publishers aforementioned had a point when they said they didn’t know how to market it. They probably thought: no guns, no excitement. (And of course they might have been being polite; maybe they hated the story).

So how exotic is exotic? I can’t say I’ve ever thought of the country of my birth as being exotic! Lots of farmland, clean and green when compared with other countries and beautiful. Ravishingly beautiful in romance terms. There is nothing to beat the Southern Alps (in the South Island of New Zealand) etched against a deep blue autumn sky with a clear lake reflecting the mountain peaks. There are a couple of photos of New Zealand on my blog at

So when you think of exotic locales, spare a thought for New Zealand, will you? Exotic? Heh!

Vonnie writes Regencies and romantic suspense. Her latest Regency, COMING HOME, was published in hardback by Robert Hale Ltd. It is available (post-free, yay!) from The Book Depository at   Her romantic suspense, LETHAL REFUGE with The Wild Rose Press, does not yet have a release date. Keep an eye out for it!


marybelle said...

I live in Australia & I have to tell you that New Zealand is top of my list for overseas travel, when I eventually take the plunge. I probably wouldn't say exotic; more natural beauty. I have friends & family who rave!!!

Vonnie said...

That's great Marybelle. Go on over! Yes, it's not 'exotic' but very beautiful. But somehow every time I got emails from agents and editors that strange word 'exotic' cropped up!


Beth Trissel said...

I love your setting and think it sounds fascinating and beautiful for a romance story. They filmed The Lord of the Rings there, so we all know it has magnificent scenery. Maybe if you'd told those 'other' publishers it was set in Middle Earth you would have gotten a bite, but you're better off at TWRP anyway. :)

desere_steenberg said...

I just loved this post I have never before thought of going to New Zealand but you definitely sparked my interest thank you so much ! It sounds amazing !

Take Care

Maeve said...

Sounds to me like you wrote what you knew best - and THAT always makes for a great story. And I agree. The Wild Rose Press is a fantastic place to be. I'm proud to be counted among the "Roses" in the garden. Great post, Vonnie!

kaelee said...

Well to someone from Canada, who has always wanted to travel to New Zealand (Thanks to Essie Summers and quite a few other Harlequin authors)it might be considered exotic. However I don't think of either New Zealand or Australia that way. Maybe because I studied them so much in school as part of the British Commonwealth. Somehow exotic evokes small island with palm trees and very few inhabitants.
I didn't realize that fact about New Zealand's police force. I just learnt something new. Thank you!

Leigh D'Ansey said...

Hey Vonnie. Shame about so many editors and publishers turning down your work because it's set in NZ. Good on TWRP. I'm a Kiwi born and bred and I think New Zealand has it all - there are dramatic landscapes and intimate and expansive areas of extreme natural beauty. I don't know what could be more exotic than a full moon gleaming on a dark lake fringed with ferns and the smell of life itself whispering through the trees - but that's just me!

LaVerne Clark said...

Hi Vonnie and congrats on your contract! Great title by the way ; )

Another Kiwi here, and I have to say I love the fact some people think we live in an 'exotic' location. I do feel privileged to live here.

You're right Beth - The Lord of the Rings has been HUGE for getting New Zealand on the map. I believe Sir Peter Jackson deserves having the 'Sir' in front of his name. That's the thing with Kiwi's - we're very passionate about our land.

Yay to TWRP!! You couldn't be working for a better company. Aren't they wonderful? : )

Margaret Muir said...

The late Hale author, Loren Teague, used New Zealand’s high country as the setting for her first crime/mystery story, but as she lived in Nelson, the South Island of NZ was home to her.
In my last book I chose the Antarctic Peninsula as a setting, the previous one was the Pampas of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego – both exotic settings and both accepted by Robert Hale.
The problem with the word ‘exotic’ is that it is misinterpreted by many people and has come to be associated with swaying palms and aromas of the East.
A definition of ‘exotic’ is something which is excitingly different, unusual and can be used to describe something which is not native to the place where it appears eg: exotic diseases such as Yellow fever were endemic in Panama during the building of the canal but today would be regarded as exotic diseases in Europe.
I know the true definition of words charge over the years, and today there are many American english words which area interpreted quite differently from their original and ongoing English english meanings.
More’s the pity.
Margaret Muir
Writing from cold ‘exotic’ Tasmania.

Vonnie said...

Yes Beth and Maeve. Better off at TWRP!

Vonnie said...

Glad to have stirred your interest Desere. I see I'm doing a great job as tourist director!

Vonnie said...

Ah Kaelee. Essie Summers. Yes! I read most of her books with laconic heroes and English immigrant heroines. Most of them set in the high country of the Southern Alps. Hmm. Doesn't time fly?

Vonnie said...

Hello Kiwis Leigh and Laverne. Nice to hear from you over the ethernet.

Vonnie said...

Margaret, I remember you. I read an excerpt from your Antartica book. I've been hung up on that cold, still place since I was in the second to last Air New Zealand flight there many years ago. It was a day out of time, looking down at the blues and greens and greys and pristine whites. Absolutely the best day of my life. Without doubt.

Exotic Tasmania? Hmm. It has about the same temperatures as NZ!

Nas Dean said...

New Zealand is very beautiful. I lived there for the last so many years and visited right from the Northern point Cape Reinga lighthouse to Invercargil, which is the last town on the south Island.

And Kaelee, you have to visit me for the exotic you looking at! Small Island with sea all around and palm trees.

Kylie Griffin said...


I think the term "exotic" locations mean somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere - unusual but familiar.

You don't see a swag of romances in many places south of the equator. There might be the odd one or two based on islands or the odd well known place ie. Sydney.

I'd love to see more books with places like Australia and New Zealand. We certainly have more authors writing them into romances - Nikki Logan, Sandra Hyatt, Robyn Donald (most are category authors)- may that continue and grow because we have some lovely places.

A thought-provoking post, Vonnie.

allywildrose said...

As Vonnie's TWRP editor, I can say that I loved her setting, loved her book and I'm so glad she landed at TWRP. :-)

New Zealand does sound beautiful and I'd love to visit some day. Very informative post, Vonnie. Thank you.

Vonnie said...

You're welcome, Ally. Now that I've marketed TWRP and New Zealand, here's hoping people buy LETHAL REFUGE!

Vonnie said...

Thank you for having me on your blog, Lee. Enjoyed it!